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ECS 915P-A (1.2A)
Speaking from my own personal experience, ECS motherboards haven’t had the greatest reputation in the market when it comes to performance and high-end features. However, over the last year or so it seems that ECS has worked hard on improving its image with a new range of high-end motherboards.
The motherboard I'm reviewing here, the 915P-A, isn’t one of these high-end offerings, but still reflects the company’s new approach by offering an innovative new feature called AGP Express,
As its name suggests, the 915-A is based on the 915 chipset. As such it supports DDR2 and PCI Express, with two slots of the former, a single x16 PCI Express for graphics and two x1 PCI Express slots for peripherals. There are also a further two PCI slots for your peripherals. A downside though for anyone upgrading an older PC, is that there is only one IDE connector supporting two drives. This is a limitation of the 915P chipset, but you do get four SATA connectors in exchange. It would have been good though if ECS had provided a SATA to EIDE converter for upgraders. The 915P-A only features the plain ICH6 rather than the RAID enabled version.
In addition, ECS has also added two DDR memory slots. Moving to PCI Express normally means dumping your AGP card and switching to DDR2. However, thanks to AGP Express and the DDR sockets ECS is proving a cost effective upgrade path. If you’re desperate to upgrade your computer, but can’t afford to get all the components at once, then this might be a suitable option for you.
So what is AGP Express? Essentially, the bandwidth of two PCI slots have been fused together to create an AGP compatible interface. However, this still doesn’t quite match the performance of a proper AGP implementation. The result is lower bandwidth and no support for ‘DIME’, the AGP feature that enables the graphics card to access system memory. However, this feature was not frequently employed by applications so is unlikely to be missed. Nevertheless, as you’ll see from the benchmarks, AGP Express proved to be less than ideal for 3D applications.
The I/O configuration consists of two PS/2 ports, one serial, one parallel and four USB 2.0 ports, an Ethernet connector and six audio sockets. Onboard Ethernet is provided by a Realtek Gigabit controller, which sadly connects over the PCI bus rather than PCI Express. Using the PCI bus rather than the PCI Express bus means lower performance and higher CPU usage, not to mention potentially affecting the bandwidth available to the AGP Express slot, as all PCI devices shares the same bus.